he turns it wherever he wants.
21:3 To do righteousness and justice
21:4 Haughty eyes and a proud heart –
the agricultural product 9 of the wicked is sin.
but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty. 13
they seek death. 17
but as for the pure, 24 his way is upright.
his neighbor is shown no favor 30 in his eyes.
when a wise person is instructed, 32 he gains knowledge.
he overthrows the wicked to their ruin. 36
he too will cry out and will not be answered. 39
and terror 47 to those who do evil.
whoever loves wine and anointing oil 56 will not be rich.
than with a quarrelsome and easily-provoked 63 woman.
finds life, bounty, 68 and honor.
for his hands 83 refuse to work.
but the righteous gives and does not hold back. 85
but the one who reports accurately speaks forever. 91
21:30 There is no wisdom and there is no understanding,
21:31 A horse is prepared for the day of battle,
but the victory is from the Lord. 98
1 sn “Heart” is a metonymy of subject; it signifies the ability to make decisions, if not the decisions themselves.
2 sn “Hand” in this passage is a personification; the word is frequently used idiomatically for “power,” and that is the sense intended here.
3 tn “Channels of water” (פַּלְגֵי, palge) is an adverbial accusative, functioning as a figure of comparison – “like channels of water.” Cf. NAB “Like a stream”; NIV “watercourse”; NRSV, NLT “a stream of water.”
sn The farmer channels irrigation ditches where he wants them, where they will do the most good; so does the
4 tn Heb “in his own eyes.” The term “eyes” is a metonymy for estimation, opinion, evaluation.
5 tn Heb “weighs” (so NASB, NIV, NRSV); NLT “examines”; NCV, TEV “judges.”
6 tn Heb “the hearts.” The term לֵב (lev, “heart”) is used as a metonymy of association for thoughts and motives (BDB 660-61 s.v. 6-7). Even though people think they know themselves, the
7 tn The Niphal participle בָּחַר (bakhar, “to choose”) means “choice to the
8 sn The
9 tn Heb “the tillage [נִר, nir] of the wicked is sin” (so NAB). The subject picks up the subjects of the first half of the verse, indicating they are equal – the tillage consists of the arrogance and pride. The word “tillage” is figurative, of course, signifying that the agricultural product (the point of the comparison) of the wicked is sin. The relationship between the ideas is then problematic. Are pride and arrogance what the wicked produce? Some (ASV, NASB, NIV, NRSV) have followed the LXX and Tg. Prov 21:4 to read “lamp” instead (נֵר, ner), but that does not solve the difficulty of the relationship between the expressions. It does, however, say that the life ( = lamp), which is arrogance and pride, is sin.
10 tn The word “diligent” is an adjective used substantivally. The related verb means “to cut, sharpen, decide”; so the adjective describes one who is “sharp” – one who acts decisively. The word “hasty” has the idea of being pressed or pressured into quick actions. So the text contrasts calculated expeditiousness with unproductive haste. C. H. Toy does not like this contrast, and so proposes changing the latter to “lazy” (Proverbs [ICC], 399), but W. McKane rightly criticizes that as unnecessarily forming a pedestrian antithesis (Proverbs [OTL], 550).
11 tn The term “lead” is supplied in the translation.
12 tn The Hebrew noun translated “plenty” comes from the verb יָתַר (yatar), which means “to remain over.” So the calculated diligence will lead to abundance, prosperity.
13 tn Heb “lack; need; thing needed”; NRSV “to want.”
14 tn The first word of the verse is the noun meaning “doing, deed, work.” The BHS editors suggest reading with the LXX an active participle – “the one who makes” (cf. NAB “He who makes”). The second word means “treasure,” from the verb “lay up, store up.” It is an objective genitive here.
15 tn The comparative “like” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is implied by the metaphor; it is supplied for the sake of clarity.
16 tn The Hebrew הֶבֶל נִדָּף (hevel nidaf) is properly “a driven vapor” (“driven” = the Niphal participle). The point of the metaphor is that the ill-gotten gains will vanish into thin air. The LXX has “pursues” (as if reading רֹדֵף, rodef); cf. NAB “chasing a bubble over deadly snares.”
17 tn The Hebrew has “seekers of death,” meaning “[they that seek them] are seekers of death,” or that the fortune is “a fleeting vapor for those who seek death.” The sense is not readily apparent. The Greek and the Latin versions have “snares of death”; the form מוֹקְשֵׁי (moqÿshe) was read instead of מְבַקְשֵׁי (mÿvaqshe). This reading does not make a more credible metaphor, and one must explain the loss of the letter ב (bet) in the textual variant. It is, however, slightly easier to interpret in the verse, and is followed by a number of English versions (e.g., NAB, NIV, NRSV, NLT). But whether the easier reading is the correct one in this case would be difficult to prove.
18 tn The “violence” (שֹׁד, shod) drags away the wicked, probably either to do more sin or to their punishment. “Violence” here is either personified, or it is a metonymy of cause, meaning “the outcome of their violence” drags them away.
19 tn Heb “violence of the wicked.” This is a subjective genitive: “violence which the wicked do.”
20 tn The second colon of the verse is the causal clause, explaining why they are dragged away. They are not passive victims of their circumstances or their crimes. They choose to persist in their violence and so it destroys them.
21 tn Heb “they refuse to do justice” (so ASV); NASB “refuse to act with justice.”
22 tn The first line of the proverb is difficult. Since וָזָר (vazar) occurs only here it has been given much attention. The translation of “guilty” is drawn from an Arabic cognate meaning “to bear a burden” and so “to be sin laden” or “guilty” (cf. NASB, NIV, NCV, NRSV, NLT). G. R. Driver prefers to read the line as “a man crooked of ways is false [zar]” (“Problems in the Hebrew Text of Proverbs,” Bib 32 : 185). C. H. Toy adopts the meaning of “proud” (Proverbs [ICC], 400). Whatever the reading, “guilty” or “proud” or “false,” the idea is that such people are devious. Bad people are underhanded; good people are aboveboard (C. H. Toy, Proverbs [ICC], 400). Another way to analyze the line is to read it with the definition “strange, stranger”: “The way of a man and a stranger is perverse.” But this is unclear, and would form no satisfactory contrast to 8b. Another suggestion is “the way of (usual) man is changeable and strange, but the pure fellow leads a straight and even course” (J. H. Greenstone, Proverbs, 244); cf. NLT “the innocent travel a straight road.”
23 tn The form הֲפַכְפַּךְ (hafakhfakh) is an adjective with an intensified meaning due to the duplication of the second and third radicals; it means “very devious; crooked” (from the verb “to overturn”).
24 tn If this translation stands, then the construction is formed with an independent nominative absolute, resumed by the suffixed noun as the formal subject. It draws attention to the “pure” or “innocent” person in contrast to the previously mentioned wicked.
25 tn English versions which translate the Hebrew term as “roof” here sometimes produce amusing images for modern readers: TEV “Better to live on the roof”; CEV “It’s better to stay outside on the roof of your house.”
sn The reference is probably to a small room that would be built on the flat housetop primarily for guests (e.g., 1 Kgs 17:19; 2 Kgs 4:10). It would be cramped and lonely – but peaceful in avoiding strife.
26 tn The “house of company” has received numerous interpretations. The word “company” or “companionship” would qualify “house” as a place to be shared. The BHS editors propose “spacious house,” which would call for a transposition of letters (cf. NAB “a roomy house”; NLT “a lovely home”). Such an emendation makes good sense, but has no external support.
27 tn Heb “a wife of contentions”; KJV “a brawling woman”; TEV, CEV “a nagging wife.” The Greek version has no reference to a quarrelsome wife, but instead mentions justice in a common house.
28 tn Heb “soul.” The Hebrew text uses נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh, traditionally, “soul”) as the formal subject of the sentence – “the soul of a wicked man desires.” This term has at its core the idea of appetites, and so its use here underscores that the cravings are deep-seated (BDB 660 s.v. 5), and the translation “appetite” reflects this.
29 sn The word has the meanings of “desire, crave, long for, lust after.” It usually has “soul” as its subject. The word is used in the Ten Commandments in the prohibition against coveting a neighbor’s house (Deut 5:18).
30 tn The form יֻחַן (yukhan) is a Hophal imperfect from חָנַן (khanan); it means “to be shown mercy” – here negated to mean “he will not be shown mercy.” The person who lives to satisfy his own craving for evil will not be interested in meeting the needs of others.
31 sn The contrast here is between the simple and the wise. The simple gain wisdom when they see the scorner punished; the wise gains knowledge through instruction. The scorner does not change, but should be punished for the benefit of the simple (e.g., Prov 19:25).
32 tn Heb “in the instructing of the wise.” The construction uses the Hiphil infinitive construct הַשְׂכִּיל (haskil) with a preposition to form a temporal clause (= “when”). The word “wise” (חָכָם, khakham) after it is the subjective genitive. The preposition לְ (lamed) on the form is probably dittography from the ending of the infinitive.
33 tn In the book of Proverbs, the Hebrew term צַּדִּיק (ysadiq) normally refers to a human being, and that is a possible translation here (cf. KJV, ASV, NAB), although it would have to refer to a righteous person who was a judge or a ruler with the right to destroy the wicked. Many commentators and English versions simply interpret this as a reference to God (cf. NIV, NRSV, TEV, NLT).
34 tn The form מַשְׂכִּיל (maskil) is now used with the meaning “to consider; to give attention to; to ponder.” It is the careful scrutiny that is given to the household of the wicked before judgment is poured out on them.
35 tn Heb “house.” This term probably means “household” here – the family. One way to read the line is that the righteous judge (human or divine) takes into consideration the wicked person’s family before judging the wicked person. The other – and more plausible – interpretation is that the judge considers the household of the wicked and then on the basis of what was observed judges them.
36 tn Heb “to evil” (i.e., catastrophe); cf. NLT “to disaster.”
37 sn The imagery means “pay no attention to” the cry for help or “refuse to help,” so it is a metonymy of cause for the effect.
38 sn “Cry” here would be a metonymy of effect for the cause, the cause being the great needs of the poor.
39 sn The proverb is teaching that those who show mercy will receive mercy. It involves the principle of talionic justice – those who refuse the needs of others will themselves be refused when they need help (so Luke 16:19-31).
40 sn The synonymous parallelism joins the more neutral term “gift” with the more specific “bribe.” D. Kidner notes that this underscores how hard it is to tell the difference between them, especially since they accomplish similar things (Proverbs [TOTC], 143).
41 tn The word כָּפָה (kafah) occurs only here; it means “to subdue,” but in New Hebrew it means “to overturn; to compel.” The BHS editors suggest a change to כָּבָה (kavah), “to be quenched,” based on Symmachus and Tg. Prov 21:14, but there is no substantial improvement in the text’s meaning with such a change.
42 tn Heb “a bribe in the bosom” (so NASB). This refers to a gift hidden in the folds of the garment, i.e., given secretly (cf. NIV “a bribe concealed in the cloak”).
43 tn The repetition of the term “subdues” in the second line is supplied in the translation.
44 tc The LXX offers a moralizing translation not too closely tied to the MT: “he who withholds a gift stirs up violent wrath.”
45 tn The Qal infinitive construct עֲשׂוֹת (’asot) functions as the subject of the sentence.
46 tn The term “brings” is supplied in the translation; many English versions supply a simple copula (“is”).
47 sn The noun means “terror (NAB, NASB, NIV), destruction (KJV, ASV), ruin (cf. NCV).” Its related verb means “be shattered, dismayed.” The idea of “dismay” (NRSV) or “terror” would make the better choice to contrast with “joy” in the first line, but “ruin” is also possible. Whenever justice prevails, whether in the courts or simply in society, the people who practice iniquity may be shaken into reality by fear (cf. CEV “crooks are terrified”).
48 tn The text uses “man” as the subject and the active participle תּוֹעֶה (to’eh) as the predicate. The image of “wandering off the path” signifies leaving a life of knowledge, prudence, and discipline.
49 tn Or “prudence”; KJV, NASB, NIV, NRSV “understanding”; NLT “common sense.”
50 tn Heb “will remain” or “will rest.” The Hebrew word נוּחַ (nuakh) does not here carry any of the connotations of comforting repose in death that the righteous enjoy; it simply means “to remain; to reside; to dwell.” The choice of this verb might have an ironic twist to it, reminding the wicked what might have been.
51 sn The departed are the Shades (the Rephaim). The literal expression “will rest among the Shades” means “will be numbered among the dead.” So once again physical death is presented as the punishment for folly.
52 sn The participle “loves” (אֹהֵב, ’ohev) indicates in this context that more is involved than the enjoyment of pleasure, for which there is no problem. The proverb is looking at “love” in the sense of needing and choosing, an excessive or uncontrolled indulgence in pleasure.
53 sn “Pleasure” is actually the Hebrew word “joy” (שִׂמְחָה, simkhah). It is a metonymy of effect, the cause being the good life that brings the joy. In the second colon, “wine” and “oil” would be metonymies of cause, the particular things in life that bring joy. Therefore the figures in the lines work together to give the complete picture.
54 tn The phrase “will be” is supplied in the translation.
55 tn Heb “a man of poverty”; NRSV “will suffer want.”
56 sn In elaborate feasts and celebrations the wine was for drinking but the oil was for anointing (cf. NAB, NCV “perfume”). Both of these characterize the luxurious life (e.g., Ps 23:5; 104:15; Amos 6:6).
57 tn The term “become” is supplied in the translation.
58 sn The Hebrew word translated “ransom” (כֹּפֶר, kofer) normally refers to the price paid to free a prisoner. R. N. Whybray (Proverbs [CBC], 121) gives options for the meaning of the verse: (1) If it means that the wicked obtain good things that should go to the righteous, it is then a despairing plea for justice (which would be unusual in the book of Proverbs); but if (2) it is taken to mean that the wicked suffers the evil he has prepared for the righteous, then it harmonizes with Proverbs elsewhere (e.g., 11:8). The ideal this proverb presents – and the future reality – is that in calamity the righteous escape and the wicked suffer in their place (e.g., Haman in the book of Esther).
59 tn Or “treacherous” (so ASV, NASB, NLT); NIV “the unfaithful.”
60 tn The phrase “are taken” does not appear in the Hebrew but is implied by the parallelism; it is supplied in the translation for smoothness.
61 tn The Hebrew form שֶׁבֶת (shevet) is the infinitive construct of יָשַׁב (yashav), functioning as the subject of the sentence.
63 tn The Hebrew noun כַּעַס (ka’as) means “vexation; anger.” The woman is not only characterized by a quarrelsome spirit, but also anger – she is easily vexed (cf. NAB “vexatious”; NASB “vexing”; ASV, NRSV “fretful”). The translation “easily-provoked” conveys this idea well.
64 tn The mention of “olive oil” (שֶׁמֶן, shemen) is problematic in the line – how can a fool devour it? Several attempts have been made to alleviate the problem. The NIV interprets “treasure” as “choice food,” so that food and oil would make more sense being swallowed. C. H. Toy (Proverbs [ICC], 406) suggests dropping “oil” altogether based on the reading in the LXX, but the Greek is too general for any support: It has “precious treasure will rest on the mouth of the sage.” W. McKane wants to change “oil” to an Arabic word “expensive” to read “desirable and rare wealth” (Proverbs [OTL], 552), but this idea does not match the metaphor any better. The figure of “devouring” in the second line simply means the fool uses up whatever he has.
65 tn Heb “a fool of a man.”
66 tn Heb “he swallows it.” The imagery compares swallowing food with consuming one’s substance. The fool does not prepare for the future.
67 sn These two attributes, “righteousness” (צְדָקָה, tsÿdaqah) and “loyal love” (חֶסֶד, khesed) depict the life style of the covenant-believer who is pleasing to God and a blessing to others. The first term means that he will do what is right, and the second means that he will be faithful to the covenant community.
68 sn The Hebrew term translated “bounty” is צְדָקָה (tsÿdaqah) again, so there is a wordplay on the term in the verse. The first use of the word had the basic meaning of “conduct that conforms to God’s standard”; this second use may be understood as a metonymy of cause, indicating the provision or reward (“bounty”) that comes from keeping righteousness (cf. NIV “prosperity”; NCV “success”). The proverb is similar to Matt 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”
69 tn Heb “The wise [one/man].”
70 tn The Qal perfect tense of עָלָה (’alah) functions in a potential nuance. Wisdom can be more effectual than physical strength.
71 sn In a war the victory is credited not so much to the infantry as to the tactician who plans the attack. Brilliant strategy wins wars, even over apparently insuperable odds (e.g., Prov 24:5-6; Eccl 9:13-16; 2 Cor 10:4).
72 tn Heb “and bring down the strength of its confidence.” The word “strength” is a metonymy of adjunct, referring to the place of strength, i.e., “the stronghold.” “Confidence” is a genitive of worth; the stronghold is their confidence, it is appropriate for the confidence of the city.
73 sn “Mouth” and “tongue” are metonymies of cause, signifying what one says (cf. NCV, TEV, CEV).
74 tn This part could also be translated “keeps himself” (so NIV), for נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh) often simply means “the whole person.” The participle שֹׁמֵר (shomer) is repeated from the first line in the parallelism – to guard what is said is to guard against difficulty.
75 sn The “troubles” (צָרוֹת, tsarot) here could refer to social and legal difficulties into which careless talk might bring someone (e.g., 13:3; 18:21). The word means “a strait, a bind, difficulty.” Careless and free talking could get the person into a tight spot.
76 tn The word זֵד (zed, “proud”) comes from the verb זִיד (zid, “to boil up; to seethe; to act proudly [or, presumptuously].” Just as water boiling up in a pot will boil over, so the presumptuous person “oversteps” the boundaries.
77 tn The word יָהִיר (yahir) means “haughty,” that is, to be or show oneself to be presumptuous or arrogant.
78 tn Heb “proud haughty scorner his name” (KJV similar). There are several ways that the line could be translated: (1) “Proud, arrogant – his name is scoffer” or (2) “A proud person, an arrogant person – ‘Scoffer’ is his name.” BDB 267 s.v. זֵד suggests, “A presumptuous man, [who is] haughty, scoffer is his name.”
79 tn Heb “does.” The Qal active participle “does” serves as the main verb, and the subject is “proud person” in the first line.
80 tn The expression בְּעֶבְרַת זָדוֹן (be’evrat zadon) means “in the overflow of insolence.” The genitive specifies what the overflow is; the proud deal in an overflow of pride. Cf. NIV “overweening pride”; NLT “boundless arrogance.”
sn The portrait in this proverb is not merely of one who is self-sufficient, but one who is insolent, scornful, and arrogant.
81 tn Heb “the desire of the sluggard” (so ASV, NASB). This phrase features a subject genitive: “what the sluggard desires.” The term תַּאֲוַת (ta’avat, “desire; craving”) is a metonymy of cause. The craving itself will not destroy the sluggard, but what will destroy him is what the craving causes him to do or not to do. The lazy come to ruin because they desire the easy way out.
82 tn The verb תְּמִיתֶנּוּ (tÿmitennu) is the Hiphil imperfect with a suffix: “will kill him.” It is probably used hyperbolically here for coming to ruin (cf. NLT), although it could include physical death.
83 sn “Hands” is figurative for the whole person; but “hands” is retained in the translation because it is often the symbol to express one’s ability of action.
84 tn The construction uses the Hitpael perfect tense הִתְאַוָּה (hit’avvah) followed by the cognate accusative תַאֲוָה (ta’avah). It describes one who is consumed with craving for more. The verse has been placed with the preceding because of the literary connection with “desire/craving.”
85 sn The additional clause, “and does not hold back,” emphasizes that when the righteous gives he gives freely, without fearing that his generosity will bring him to poverty. This is the contrast with the one who is self-indulgent and craves for more.
86 tn Heb “the sacrifice of the wicked” (so KJV, NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV). This is a subjective genitive. The foundational clause states that ritual acts of worship brought by the wicked (thus a subjective genitive) are detestable to God. The “wicked” refers here to people who are not members of the covenant (no faith) and are not following after righteousness (no acceptable works). But often they participate in sanctuary ritual, which amounts to hypocrisy.
87 sn This rhetorical device shows that if the act is abomination, the wicked heart is an even greater sin. It argues from the lesser to the greater.
88 tn The noun זִמָּה (zimmah) means “plan; device; wickedness”; here it indicates that the person is coming to the ritual with “sinful purpose.” Some commentators suggest that this would mean he comes with the sacrifice as a bribe to pacify his conscience for a crime committed, over which he has little remorse or intent to cease (cf. NLT “with ulterior motives”). In this view, people in ancient Israel came to think that sacrifices could be given for any reason without genuine submission to God.
89 tn Heb “a witness of lies,” an attributive genitive.
90 tn The Hebrew verb translated “will perish” (יֹאבֵד, yo’bed) could mean that the false witness will die, either by the hand of God or by the community. But it also could be taken in the sense that the false testimony will be destroyed. This would mean that “false witness” would be a metonymy of cause – what he says will perish (cf. NCV “will be forgotten”).
91 tn Heb “but a man who listens speaks forever.” The first part of it may mean (1) a true witness, one who reports what he actually hears. But it may also refer to (2) someone who listens to the false testimony given by the false witness. The NIV follows the suggestion of a homonym for the Hebrew word with the meaning “will perish/be destroyed”: “will be destroyed forever.” This suggests a synonymous pair of ideas rather than a contrast. Others accept antithetical parallelism. C. H. Toy suggested an idea like “be established” to contrast with “will perish” (Proverbs [ICC], 411). W. McKane suggested it meant the truthful witness “will speak to the end” without being put down (Proverbs [OTL], 556). It is simpler to interpret the words that are here in the sense of a contrast. The idea of speaking forever/to the end would then be hyperbolic.
92 tn Heb “a wicked man.”
93 tn Heb “he hardens his face.” To make the face firm or hard means to show boldness (BDB 738 s.v. עָזַז Hiph); cf. NRSV “put on a bold face.”
94 tn The “upright” is an independent nominative absolute; the pronoun becomes the formal (emphatic) subject of the verb.
95 tc The Kethib is the imperfect of כּוּן (kun), “he establishes.” This reading has the support of the Syriac, Latin, and Tg. Prov 21:29, and is followed by ASV. The Qere is the imperfect tense of בִּין (bin), “he understands; he discerns.” It has the support of the LXX and is followed by NIV, NCV, NRSV, NLT. The difficulty is that both make good sense in the passage and both have support. The contrast is between the wicked who shows a bold face (reflecting a hardened heart) and the upright who either gives thought to his ways (or solidifies his ways). The sense of the Qere may form a slightly better contrast, one between the outer appearance of boldness and the inner discernment of action.
96 tn The form לְנֶגֶד (lÿneged) means “against; over against; in opposition to.” The line indicates they cannot in reality be in opposition, for human wisdom is nothing in comparison to the wisdom of God (J. H. Greenstone, Proverbs, 232).
97 sn The verse uses a single sentence to state that all wisdom, understanding, and advice must be in conformity to the will of God to be successful. It states it negatively – these things cannot be in defiance of God (e.g., Job 5:12-13; Isa 40:13-14).
98 tn Heb “of the